Charlotte Checkers

Mike Vellucci, coach of AHL champion Checkers, won’t return for 2019-20 season

Mike Vellucci won’t be back as coach of the Charlotte Checkers when they defend their American Hockey League Calder Cup championship next season.

Instead, he’ll coach the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins, another AHL team and an Atlantic Division opponent of the Checkers.

The Carolina Hurricanes, parent team of the Checkers, announced Friday that they and Vellucci had agreed mutually agreed to part ways. A few hours later, the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton team announced it had hired Vellucci.

In a statement, Vellucci said he had “been presented with an exciting opportunity that makes sense for my future.”

Wilkes-Barre/Scranton is the top farm team of the Pittsburgh Penguins.

It was unclear Friday evening why Vellucci would leave the AHL champion Checkers for another team in the same league.

He replaces Clark Donatelli, who resigned as Penguins coach Thursday.

Vellucci, 52, just completed his fifth season in the Hurricanes’ organization – the last two as head coach of the Checkers and assistant general manager of the Hurricanes. He was hired by the Hurricanes in April 2014 as assistant general manager and director of hockey operations.

Vellucci coached Charlotte into the second round of the AHL playoffs in the 2017-18 season.

Mike Vellucci will not return to coach the AHL Calder Cup champions Charlotte Checkers next season. Jeff Siner

This past season, Vellucci’s team finished with the best overall regular-season record in the league, then defeated Providence, Hershey, defending champion Toronto and finally Chicago to win the Calder Cup.

In a tweet Friday afternoon, Checkers chief operating officer Tera Black thanked Vellucci for his work with the team, adding that he was “a true pro who knows every area of the business, inside and out.”

If Vellucci’s goal had been to become a head coach in the NHL, his path in the Hurricanes organization seemingly would be blocked for a while. First-year head coach Rod Brind’Amour guided Carolina to a surprising run in the Stanley Cup playoffs, with the Hurricanes reaching the Eastern Conference finals before falling to Boston.

In other Checkers-related news Friday, the Hurricanes announced that they had signed goalkeeper Alex Nedeljkovic, a restricted free agent, to a two-year contract. The first year of that deal is a two-way contract, meaning, Nedeljkovic can be moved freely between Carolina and Charlotte. The second year is an NHL deal.

Nedeljkovic helped lead the Checkers to the Calder Cup title, earning AHL Goalkeeper of the Year honors.

Don Waddell, president and general manager of the Hurricanes, said Friday that “we expect him (Nedeljkovic) to contend for a roster spot with the Hurricanes in training camp.”

Steve Lyttle on Twitter: @slyttle